eHealth: Challenges and Benefits
eHealth: Challenges and Benefits
With the rise of digital healthcare technology, we see the rise of individual solutions that aim to improve one facet of healthcare or the other. COVID-19 expedited the adoption process, and we see innovators and developers create digital solutions that would otherwise be in the realm of sci-fi. Still, it is undeniable that telehealth and its branches are growing in market size and adoption rates. One of them is e healthcare.
What is eHealth?
World Health Organization defines it as: “the cost-effective and secure use of information and communications technologies in support of health and health-related fields, including health-care services, health surveillance, health literature, and health education, knowledge, and research.”
It has the purpose of bridging the health inequality gap, making healthcare cheaper and more accessible, and improving the existing facets of health delivery. eHealth makes healthcare more responsive to people’s needs and expectations and makes health systems more efficient. Not all individuals in different regions have the same access to this service. It is worth noting that, with the spread of the internet and technology into more remote areas, more individuals will be able to access and reap the benefits this tech offers.
Examples of eHealth
As we already mentioned, this technology refers to the improvement of healthcare delivery through the use of information and communication technologies. It is the reliance on digital tools to improve the patient/provider experience and make it more efficient. With that said, there are many different facets of this and many subgroups of health tech, such as electronic health records, mobile health, and wearable medical devices, to name a few.
Electronic Health Records
EHRs are a fundamental component of e health and broader digital health technologies. They store patient information and give medical professionals quick and easy access to patient history, medical records, or overall health picture. Although this information system has an essential role in sharing medical information, it is worth noting that most medical organizations have their own system without a unified database connecting them to other medical practices, even in the same country.
Choosing the correct EHR vendor is essential for this system’s integration into practice and implementation in the overall eHealth system. In fact, unsuccessful implementation of this technology can increase clinician workload and burnout rate. Therefore, it is necessary to fully integrate one’s system with one’s clinical practice to maximize the benefits and minimize the strain that can ensue with the improper implementation of this tech.
The World Health Organization defines mhealth as: “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices.”
Another strand of eHealth technologies, mHealth, refers to accessing and affecting one’s healthcare delivery through mobile devices. Given that, as of August 2022, there are more than 6.6 billion smartphone users worldwide, it is natural that the mHealth market size and the number of users are steadily increasing. Like other digital health segments, this tech has been linked with faster care, improved medication adherence, and improved communication between patients and providers.
Wearable Medical Devices
Another supplement to eHealth solutions, wearables refer to medical devices that patients put on their bodies to track vitals or other data to help with tracking, diagnosis, or treatment. This tech has numerous applications, and some of the famous examples include, but are not limited to:
- Fitness trackers
- ECG monitors
- Wearable Biosensors
- Smart clothing and jewelry
Like other branches under the umbrella term of “digital health,” the market for wearables is expanding along with the number of users. As of 2020, 30% of US adults rely on this eHealthcare branch, with 50% relying on this technology daily and 80% willing to share their information with their medical care provider.
The use and application of this tech vary according to socioeconomic factors: higher use rates are correlated with higher income and education levels. It is essential to make this technology more accessible and to educate individuals on its benefits to foster adoption rate and growth.
E Healthcare Benefits
As we already mentioned, the various segments of this service offer many benefits to be reaped by patients and providers. To that end, here are some of the most obvious benefits that arise from the implementation of this technology in medical practice for patients and providers:
- Time savings: patients can schedule their appointments using scheduling software tools offered by their care provider. eHealth makes this process more convenient for patients and allows medical professionals to focus on care delivery.
- Decreased administrative burden: by letting healthcare AI or chatbots, for example, take care of common patient questions, updates, or scheduling, medical professionals have more time to focus on the quality of care, and their bottom line is improved since software they employ can take care of non-medical tasks.
- More accessible and equal healthcare: e-health allows healthcare providers to reach patients in remote areas. By transcending geographical limitations, providers can reach patients from anywhere while delivering care to patients in their own homes. Bypassing waiting rooms and potentially infectious clinical settings is merely an advantage we realized during the mandated distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Improved bottom line: increased speed of healthcare delivery and alleviated administrative burden means that healthcare providers can reach more patients and take in more patients resulting in more revenue. Furthermore, online healthcare is linked with improved patient satisfaction rates. Therefore, the benefit is twofold.
The benefits of this technology wouldn’t be as great if not for its challenges. Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the challenges faced by healthcare related to digital health:
- Lack of standardization: even though EHRs can store and manage patient data, the lack of standards make interoperability challenging: it is necessary to create a universal format that would allow seamless interoperability between different EHR systems.
- Patient privacy: e health encompasses the digital storing and sharing of protected health information. Given that healthcare is the number one target of cybercriminals, installing proper measures related to storing and sharing medical information is essential.
- Complex user experience: some users reported having trouble with eHealth: they did not know how to use patient portals, or they didn’t fully understand the benefits this tech offers, so they opted not to use it. Education is essential in both cases.